Apart from fueling war machinery, the most carbon consuming area is aviation industry. With the approval in June 2011, various airline industries have adopted bio-fuel as their primary fuel. The idea is to reduce the uptake of commercial oil. Aviation bio-fuels are a different class of fuel characterized by their origin from biological wastes. There are mainly two classes of bio-fuel based on the origin. The first bio-fuel namely bio-SPK or bio-derived synthetic paraffinic kerosene comprises of oil from plant-based sources and unusable oils. The second category is FT SPK or Fischer–Tropsch synthetic paraffinic kerosene. It is produced in multistage procedure that involves pyrolysis or gasification of solid wastes to produce oil or gas, which is then converted into the oil. Like every other technology, this technology too has pros and cons. Here we are categorizing the good, bad and ugly aspects of using aviation biofuels.
The aviation bio-fuels have tremendous environmental benefits. It reduces the carbon footprints of aviation industry to a very generous level. Currently, the aviation industry has a 2% share in global emission rate with high rate of carbon consumption. However, with the advent of bio-fuel, the aviation industry can survive without the synthetic oil necessary for its regular service.
Bio-fuels can potentially decrease the emission to half of its current value by 2050. Many researches proved that bio-fuels could be mixed with traditional fuels to provide safer and efficient way to reduce the oil consumption. Apart from that, since the bio-fuel contains practically no sulfur-based compounds, the SOx and NOx emissions can be reduced drastically. Scientists have estimated that at least 85% reduction can be expected from aviation industry in terms of greenhouse gases emission.
As the process utilizes waste material, the cost of the fuel is also expected to be below that of commercially available fuel. It will surely reduce the cost of traveling, as the bulk portion of air ticket comprises of fuel prices.
The other advantage of using bio-fuels is to have a sustainable supply of fuel. Scientists have estimated that by year 2040, the fossil fuels will be very near to depletion. Till now, only bio-fuel is the only alternative available, as utilization of bio-fuels does not need any major engine modification. The hydrogen, electric power and the nuclear fuel are still in infantile stage of experimentation. The immediate inclusion of this technology is not possible. Bio-fuels, if found successful, can be the next generation fuel for all future concept vehicles.
Like every other technology, there is a bad side to aviation bio-fuels. The problem is water usage. Though the process of conversion of oil into synthetic paraffin kerosene requires very less amount of water, but cultivating the source of bio-fuels requires tremendous amount of water.
If we take an example of soybean, the oil produced from soybean and then its further reduction to synthetic aviation bio-fuels requires a very minute amount of water. However, growing soybean needs tremendous amount of irrigation. When these materials are needed to be supplied in bulk to cater aviation industry requirements, one cannot depend upon rain as the sole water source. This is the only reason the bio-fuels are still not economically viable. Current statistics clearly states that world is consuming nearly 40% of fresh water in irrigation related usages. With the advent of bio-fuels, the irrigation need will increase several folds. It will definitely create major problem of scarcity of fresh water.
The worst or the ugly side of aviation bio-fuel is the rising requirement that will surely affect the food production. With the rapid increase in demands, more lands will be acquired to grow the commercial fuels that will create a major food shortage.
The food shortage will be the long-term impact of bio-fuels. Many surveys have predicted that rise in demand will encourage the commercial companies to invest in acquiring land to grow these type of oil producing crops. It will decrease the food production critically.
The process may be slow in start, but slowly it will have a major impact on general population. With rising population, trend growing only oil-based crops can be catastrophic. There is no major solution for this problem, as there is no solution to tackle the greed of the corporations involved in the process.
Can there be any alternative? Yes, the ban on GM crops needs to be lifted for producing raw material for fuel industry. GM or genetically modified crops are modified in genetic level to reduce their water intake and ensure their survivability in harshest conditions. The other alternative can be the marine algae that can survive in seawater. Utilizing seawater lagoons to cultivate algae and then extracting oil from them can be an excellent solution. Implementation of new laws that will deter use of agriculture land for the commercial oil producing purpose can also encourage the corporate sector to concentrate on above solution.